While there are certain advantages to this method, such as not incurring credit card debt, there are also major disadvantages, such as not quite knowing where all that money is going and not contributing enough to your savings because there's never anything left over.
Even though budgeting is a wonderful tool for managing your finances, many people think it's not for them. The logic they use, however, is often flawed. Below is a list of 10 budget myths that stop people from saving as much as they could – and should. Do any of these budgeting myths apply to you?
1. I Don't Need to Budget
The truth is, almost everyone, even those with large paychecks and plenty of money in the bank, can benefit from budgeting. Keeping track of your monthly income and expenses allows you to make sure your hard-earned money is being put to its highest and best purpose. For example, if you knew how much money you were spending on restaurant meals every month, you might decide that you'd rather be putting that money toward something else, like a nicer vacation.
2. I'm Not Good at Math so I Can't Manage My Money
Thanks to budgeting software, you don't have to be good at math, you simply have to be able to follow instructions. Many of these programs are free and can be safely downloaded without fear of viruses or spyware from CNET's download.com. If you know how to use spreadsheet software, you can even make your own budget. It's as simple as creating one column for your income, another column for your expenses and keeping a running tab on the difference between the two.
3. My Job is Secure
No one's job is truly secure. If you work for a corporation, downsizing or losing your job is always a looming possibility. If you work for a small company, these concerns may not apply, but if the owner died suddenly, the company might die with the owner. You should always be prepared for a job loss by having at least three months' worth of living expenses in the bank. It's a lot easier to accumulate this money if you know how much money you're bringing in and laying out each month.
4. Government-Sponsored Unemployment Pay Will Tide Me Over
Unemployment benefits are not a sure thing. Let's say a bad situation at work leaves you with no choice but to quit your job. Because you weren't laid off, leaving your job will be considered voluntary and it's very unlikely you'll receive any benefits. It won't help if you decide to remedy this problem by getting yourself fired, as those who are let go for bad behavior are also very unlikely to receive unemployment assistance. On top of that, getting fired will make it harder for you to get a new job.
5. It Won't Happen to Me
We all think that unexpected high bills and tragedies won't happen to us. With the number of things that can possibly go wrong in life, hoping for the best is the most logical emotional survival tactic. However, you might lose your job, be in a car accident, get cancer or need to help a friend or family member who falls on hard times. It's best to be prepared and hope that you'll get to use the money for something fun one day instead.
6. I Don't Want to Deprive Myself
Budgeting is not synonymous with spending as little money as possible or making yourself feel guilty about every purchase. The crux of budgeting is to make sure you're able to save a little each month, ideally at least 10% of your income, or at the very least, to make sure that you aren't spending more than you earn. Unless you're on a very tight budget (and we all are sometimes), you'll still be able to buy baseball tickets and go out to eat. Tracking your expenses doesn't change the amount of money you have available to spend every month, it just tells you where that money is going.
7. I Don't Want Anything Big so I Don't Need to Save
This one is tricky. If you don't have any major savings goals to buy a house, a new car or to save enough money to quit your day job and take a stab at starting your own business, it's hard to drum up the motivation to stash away extra cash each month. However, your situation and your attitudes are likely to change over time. Perhaps you don't want to save up for a house because you live in New York City and expect that renting will be the most affordable option for the rest of your life. But in five years, you might be sick of the Big Apple and decide to move to rural Vermont. Suddenly, buying a home becomes more affordable and you might wish you had five years' worth of savings in the bank for a down payment.
As another example, many people thought home ownership would be forever out of reach when the housing bubble was pushing prices ever higher, so they gave up on the idea of owning a home. After the bubble burst and prices sank, however, those who previously couldn't even afford condos sometimes had the income to afford houses. Even FHA loans require a down payment, though, so those who saved their extra money when prices were high put themselves in a great position to buy when prices dropped.
8. Any Money I Save Would Just be Used for Education
Yes, the catch-22 of student financial aid is that the more money you have, the less financial aid you'll be eligible for. That's enough to make anyone wonder if it isn't better to just spend it all and have nothing in the bank in order to qualify for the maximum amount of grants and loans.
When you apply for federal student aid such as the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan or Pell Grant, you will fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Whether you are an adult student going back to school or the parent of a student headed to college, this form does not require you to report the value of your primary residence (if you own a home) or the value of your retirement accounts. This means that if you want to save money without compromising your financial aid eligibility, you can do so by using your savings to buy a house, prepay your mortgage or contribute more money to your retirement accounts. The savings you put into these assets can still be accessed in the event of an emergency, but you won't be penalized for them. Paying down credit card debt and auto loans can also serve as a form of saving that won't detract from your financial aid eligibility. Just think of all that interest you won't have to pay when your balances go down or are even paid off completely.
Another issue is that even if you employ all the legal strategies available to you to maximize your financial aid eligibility, you still won't always qualify for as much aid as you need, so it's not a bad idea to have your own source of funds to make up for any shortfall in the aid you're offered.
9. I'm Debt-Free
While being debt-free is unusual and commendable, it won't pay your bills in an emergency. A zero balance is better than a negative balance, but that zero can quickly become negative if you don't have a safety net.
10. I Always Get a Raise or Tax Refund
It's never a good idea to count on unpredictable sources of income. Your company may not have enough money to give you a raise, or as much of a raise as you'd hoped for, even if you've earned it. The same is true of bonus money. Tax refunds are more reliable, but this depends in part on how good you are at calculating your own tax liability. Some people know how to figure to the penny how much of a refund they will get (or how much they will owe) as well as how to adjust this figure through changes in payroll withholding throughout the year. Others find W-4 forms, 1040s and tax tables incomprehensible and April is always a surprise. You might be expecting a $1,000 refund only to find that you're getting $300 – or worse, that you owe.
If you're still not convinced that budgeting is for you, here's a way to protect yourself from your own spending habits. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a savings account you won't see (i.e., a savings account at a different bank from your checking account) that is scheduled to happen right after you get paid. If you are saving for retirement, you may have the option of contributing a regular, set amount to a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan. This way, you'll always pay yourself first, you'll always have enough money for the transfer and you'll always pay yourself the same predetermined amount that you know will help you meet your goals. If you don't think you have the discipline for budgeting, this is your best bet.
However, a better solution is to make this automatic contribution in conjunction with starting a budgeting spreadsheet or using budgeting software. This way, you won't run into any unpleasant surprises, like your checking account balance reaching zero when your car insurance is due and you don't get paid for another week.
The Bottom Line
To manage your monthly expenses, prepare for life's unpredictable events and be able to afford more expensive purchases without going into debt, budgeting is a great idea. Keeping track of how much you earn and spend doesn't have to be drudgery, doesn't require you to be good at math and doesn't mean you can't buy the things you want. It just means that you'll know where your money goes, you'll have greater control over your financial situation and you'll probably be able to sleep more soundly at night.